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AVOIDING GREED

Read­ing Time: 9 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Ecc 1:2; 2:21–23; Col 3:1–5.9–11; Luke 12:13–21)

Greed is a bot­tom­less pit which exhausts the per­son in an end­less effort to sat­is­fy the need without ever reach­ing sat­is­fac­tion” (E. Fromm).

Greed, envy, sloth, pride and glut­tony: these are not vices any­more. No, these are mar­ket­ing tools. Lust is our way of life. Envy is just a nudge towards anoth­er sale. Even in our rela­tion­ships we con­sume each oth­er, each of us look­ing for what we can get out of the oth­er. Our appet­ites are often sat­is­fied at the expense of those around us. In a dog-eat-dog world we lose part of our human­ity” (J. Forman).

Introduction

Dear friend, wel­come to anoth­er week of grace! Wel­come espe­cially to the month of August. To have exper­i­enced this day is a sign of God’s grace. As we learnt last Sunday, God has also giv­en us today the grace to live this day and this month.

In the past three Sundays, we have reflec­ted on Jesus’ teach­ing on the true sig­ni­fic­ance of neigh­bour and on how to be a good neigh­bour (cf. Luke 10:25–37); the neces­sity of hos­pit­al­ity and the invit­a­tion to avoid dis­trac­tions so as to be able to make the right choices in life, espe­cially in terms of spir­itu­al life and etern­al life (cf. Luke 10:37–42); and how to pray and the need for con­stancy in pray­er (cf. Luke 11:1–13).

In Luke 12, Jesus instructs his dis­ciples, the crowd and every Chris­ti­an on how to be ready for the upcom­ing judg­ment. A crowd of many thou­sands has gathered to hear Jesus. At first he speaks only to the dis­ciples, remind­ing them that it is not per­se­cu­tion they should fear but the judg­ment that is com­ing for all who do not acknow­ledge the Son of Man. Sud­denly a man in the crowd shouts out to Jesus, “Teach­er, tell my broth­er to divide the inher­it­ance with me.” He seems to have grown tired of Jesus speak­ing only to the dis­ciples. Jesus offers the man no help. Instead he uses the ques­tion to teach what, in light of the com­ing judg­ment, life really con­sist of.

This Sunday Gos­pel read­ing is a warn­ing to beware of greed in its vari­ous forms (cf. Luke 12:13–21). Although these teach­ings are meant for our spir­itu­al and mater­i­al well­being, they are espe­cially meant to bet­ter our inter and intra-per­son­al rela­tion­ships. Unless our hori­zont­al rela­tion­ship is cor­rec­ted, our ver­tic­al rela­tion­ship may not be guar­an­teed (cf. 1John 4:20–21). Dis­trac­tion can come in any form and it can take any form. Dur­ing his mis­sion, Jesus met encountered vari­ous attempts to dis­tract him from his mis­sion, but he avoided all of them. The young man of the story wanted to dis­tract him with the issue of inher­it­ance and he used the oppor­tun­ity to teach his dis­ciples and Chris­ti­ans on the right use of mater­i­al pos­ses­sions. Rightly has this reflec­tion been cap­tioned ‘Avoid­ing greed.’

The problem of inheritance

Someone in the crowd said to him, teach­er, tell my broth­er to divide the fam­ily inher­it­ance with me” (Luke 12:13). The prob­lem of inher­it­ance is an age long prob­lem. Every gen­er­a­tion exper­i­ences it, though dif­fer­ently. Today in our vari­ous soci­et­ies, the issue of pat­ri­mony has become a source of dis­har­mony in many fam­il­ies, vil­lages, com­munit­ies, towns, States, Regions and Nations. It has giv­en rise to hatred and enmity among chil­dren of the same par­ents, people of the same cul­ture and who share com­mon belief, and in most cases, lives are equally lost. When we reflect on the plea of the man from the crowd who beckoned on Jesus to inter­vene between him and his broth­er in shar­ing their father’s pat­ri­mony (cf. Luke 12:13), the impres­sion is that they have been quar­rel­ling and could not reach any agree­ment on how to share their inher­it­ance. It is also pos­sible the juni­or broth­er has been insist­ing on shar­ing things but the seni­or broth­er has not respon­ded. But did Jesus actu­ally come to settle inher­it­ance issues? The dis­pute over inher­it­ance is wit­nessed mainly in the case of the death of the fath­er or the moth­er as the case may be. In some cases, argu­ments on inher­it­ance are giv­en pri­or­ity over the buri­al and mourn­ing of the deceased per­son. Some­times, this even takes place while the per­son is still alive and on sick bed. This is scan­dal­ous! In the Lukan lan­guage, those involved in this ignoble act are fools. That is, deprived of com­mon sense and divine wisdom.

On his part, Jesus remained faith­ful to his mis­sion, avoid­ing every dis­trac­tion. The request to inter­vene in the shar­ing of inher­it­ance, which he know noth­ing about, is a ser­i­ous and cal­cu­lated attempt to dis­tract him from his mis­sion. Instead of reflect­ing on Jesus’ words and teach­ings con­cern­ing being a true, con­vinced and faith­ful dis­ciple, the man who made the request to him had his mind on anoth­er thing. While Jesus was teach­ing and show­ing people the way to sal­va­tion, this man was busy think­ing of mater­i­al things. As if this was not enough, he wanted Jesus to join him in his quest for eph­em­er­al­ity. This is ser­i­ous food for thought. Often, our Churches are filled with people who occupy the benches with their bod­ies but whose minds and thoughts are on pil­grim­age. This man was among those listen­ing to Jesus but he was there with anoth­er inten­tion. Yes, he saw Jesus as the solu­tion to his prob­lem. Unfor­tu­nately, he was unable to decipher that the issue of inher­it­ance was not among the prob­lems Jesus came to solve. There are those who can do that per­fectly. Moreover, the prob­lem of inher­it­ance per­sists because those involved lack the spir­itu­al qual­i­fic­a­tion to enable them handle it. Jesus’ mis­sion involved the pro­vi­sion of such spir­itu­al qual­i­fic­a­tion, which the man could not per­ceive because he was deeply dis­trac­ted. What is your rela­tion­ship with mater­i­al possessions?

Beware of pleonexia

Man, who made me a judge or arbit­rat­or between you and your broth­er? Watch out and guard yourselves from all kinds of greed, for a person’s life does not con­sist in the abund­ance of his or her pos­ses­sions” (Luke 12:15). To the dis­trac­tion of the man from the crowd and the attempt to devi­ate Jesus’ atten­tion, Jesus respon­ded with a ser­i­ous warn­ing and a touch­ing story. “Man, who made me a judge or arbit­rat­or between you and your broth­er?” With this inter­rog­a­tion, Jesus shunned the man and asked him to take his worldly prob­lem else­where. How­ever, it must be acknow­ledged that this man’s request even­tu­ally became use­ful. It offered Jesus the occa­sion to deliv­er a stun­ning teach­ing on the trans­it­or­i­ness of mater­i­al things. Hav­ing silenced the man, Jesus turned to the crowd and said to them “watch out and guard yourselves from all kinds of greed, for a person’s life does not con­sist in the abund­ance of his or her pos­ses­sions” (Luke 12:15). In report­ing this warn­ing, Luke uses the word ple­onex­ia. The Greek term ple­onex­ia means greed or greed­i­ness, cov­et­ous­ness, avid­ity, insa­ti­able­ness, avarice, excess, arrog­ance and want­ing more. These are the vices sum­mar­ized in this single term ple­onex­ia. And Jesus invites not only the man from the crowd, but all to avoid them due to their neg­at­ive con­sequences in a person’s life and spir­itu­al health.

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